Sept. 6, 2019, marked the groundbreaking of the NC State University Plant Sciences Building, a 185,000-square-foot research facility that will stand in the heart of Centennial Campus. One goal of the North Carolina Plant Sciences Initiative (N.C. PSI) — a partnership of NC State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — is to create a hub for scientists, government and industry to come together to solve some of agriculture’s most pressing challenges.
Among the guest speakers who attended the ceremony was Board Chairman of the Golden LEAF Foundation Randy Isenhower. The foundation awarded NC State $48 million dollars in combined grants for the N.C. PSI. That funding included the largest single contribution ever made to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
The foundation was started in 1999 by the North Carolina General Assembly to steward one half of the state’s Master Settlement Agreement with cigarette manufacturers. Since then, the board created a successful endowment, making the foundation sustainable and funding hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to create economic opportunities across the state.
Following the groundbreaking ceremony, we talked with Isenhower to learn more about the Golden LEAF Foundation and why it supports the N.C. PSI.
Tell us about Golden LEAF Foundation.
For 20 years, Golden LEAF’s mission has been to increase the economic well-being of North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent communities through grantmaking, stewardship of the funds we received from the Master Settlement Agreement, and by working with other organizations seeking to improve the economy of rural North Carolina.
Why was Golden LEAF interested in funding the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative?
At Golden LEAF, we recognize that supporting agriculture grows rural communities, and this state-of-the-art facility and initiative are the tools North Carolina’s farmers and industry researchers need to boost that growth. It will establish North Carolina as the industry leader in agricultural innovation — and give our farmers and rural communities the edge in a competitive global market.
I can’t think of a more fitting project than the Plant Sciences Initiative to demonstrate our important vision to North Carolina.
What are you hoping will come out of the partnership?
We are confident that NC State will be able to achieve the goal of connecting innovation to results because of its proven track record of doing just that.
Today’s thriving North Carolina sweet potato industry is one of several great examples of NC State’s innovation and commitment to practical agricultural research. Several years ago, NC State University’s researchers and farmers worked together to develop a new variety of sweet potato, called Covington, which helped North Carolina become the top sweet potato-producing state in the nation. Because of this effort, this commodity became one of agriculture’s greatest success stories. Today more than half of the nation’s sweet potato supply comes from NC and our farmers export this product to countries around the world.
We expect this initiative to result in even more successes that will create meaningful benefits for our farmers.